[Mr Clive Betts in the Chair]
I beg to move,
That this House has considered the humanitarian situation in South Sudan.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Betts, although it is no pleasure to consider the scale and depth of the plight of South Sudan today. We probably all remember that back in July 2011, we greeted what was then the world’s newest country, South Sudan. The hope was that decades of violence would end and there would be new beginnings for the South Sudanese people. Five years on, the country has been plunged into civil war once again, with the rebel leader Riek Machar calling for armed struggle against President Salva Kiir’s Government in Juba.
Although violence erupted again in July, we know that it had never been far away: the country has essentially been in conflict since 2013. We have seen instability and conflict spread throughout South Sudan, into some previously untouched areas such as the Equatorias and greater Bahr el Ghazal. The conflict has also taken on an ethnic dimension and brought to the surface historical injustices, along with present day grievances.
Humanitarian indicators rarely tell the whole story, but in the case of South Sudan, the numbers are staggering. Out of a population of 12 million, some 3 million people are displaced. Of those, 1.8 million are internally displaced inside the country—most people believe that is a conservative figure—and 1.2 million have fled as refugees to neighbouring countries. The indications are that 4.8 million people are currently food-insecure and that one in five South Sudanese women in the protection of civilian camps have reported sexual abuse. We know that women and girls have been disproportionately affected by the crisis in South Sudan, as they account for 57% of the registered internally displaced people. The situation is expected to deteriorate even further in 2017, with increased conflict, deepening food insecurity and a further deterioration of the country’s already desperate economic situation.
We recently had a clear warning from the United Nations special adviser on the prevention of genocide, Adama Dieng, that there is a strong risk of violence escalating along ethnic lines, with the possibility of genocide. We see hate speech, stereotyping and polarising rhetoric on South Sudanese radio and social media. Trust in an inclusive, distinctive South Sudanese national identity is at its lowest ebb. With the dry season approaching, there are fears of a large-scale Government offensive in the coming weeks.
I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing this debate. He mentioned the UN special adviser. Does he agree that there is an incredibly important role for the United Nations Mission in the Republic of South Sudan, which has been spectacularly under-delivering, with poor leadership, and that UNMISS needs to be beefed up substantially and have its role extended and expanded, in line with the recent UN inquiry?
The hon. Gentleman has an acute insight into the country, from his time as the Minister for Africa. I pay tribute to his sterling work on the all-party parliamentary group for Sudan and South Sudan, which he vice-chairs; I serve alongside him as chair. He rightly raises the recurring criticism of the performance of UNMISS, but I do not want to turn this debate simply into a critique of its failures, although they are many. I want to see how together, at a UK level and internationally, we can better respond to the situation in South Sudan.
This is not to pretend that there are not other dire situations crying out for our attention and further effort. All of us will have been moved by the reports from Yemen on television and radio last night and this morning. We know that hon. Members right across this House are seized with the plight of people in and fleeing from Syria and surrounding countries. This debate is not an attempt to single out South Sudan as the only humanitarian crisis that warrants our attention and consideration.
In trying to help the situation in South Sudan, we have to confront the failures there. Those include failures in political leadership in the country, in terms of the President and the former vice-president, who is now in South Africa. Government and opposition forces are prepared to visit violence on their own people, and in parts of the country that were previously spared some of that violence. We have to be up front about those failures. Of course, we also have to recognise, as some have highlighted, how corruption and conflict have been drivers of each other in South Sudan. We saw that spelled out clearly in the report a few months ago by the Sentry, backed by George Clooney, in respect of both Government and opposition players there.
Faced with those challenges and difficulties, the hon. Member for North West Norfolk (Sir Henry Bellingham) is right to call into question the performance and effort of the UN mission in South Sudan, and particularly the questionable leadership. However, rather than just offering rightful criticism, it is incumbent on the international community to provide a new resolve.
I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing this debate. The UN is a multifarious organisation. We should recognise that it is the UN’s special adviser on genocide who has sounded the alarm over the risk of genocide in the country and reminded people that all of us in the international community bear responsibility for monitoring the incitement to hatred.
I fully accept what the right hon. Lady has said. That is why I specifically quoted the UN adviser.
We have to look at what further actions can be taken to help people in South Sudan who want to stand up against hate speech. We can talk about the scale of devastation in the country and forget that there are still people there trying to hold on to the fragment of civil society that remains. There are people in a range of churches who are trying to hold on and offer degrees of decency and cohesion. They should be our partners in trying to create some sort of coalition of hopeful purpose within South Sudan and internationally.
It is important that where we have political and diplomatic engagement at an international level in South Sudan, we must be straight and blunt with both Government and opposition forces and do what we can to get them to engage better and more consistently in dialogue. We also have to be much more active in our partnership with those who stand for the interests and rights of the South Sudanese people, and who do so without being implicated in any sort of corruption whatever.
There are non-governmental organisations in South Sudan, and they are well supported by some of the international NGOs, which of course find it harder to cope there because of the deteriorating security situation and the poor infrastructure. NGOs are finding it hard to keep themselves safe and to reach different parts of the country to provide the level of aid and services they want to give. Nevertheless, we need to stay fully engaged with them.
I recognise that the UK Government have made a point of ensuring a relatively joint effort for both Sudan and South Sudan on the part of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Department for International Development, just as we in the all-party group have made a point of staying together and covering both Sudan and South Sudan. I welcome the Government’s effort. I am not here to say that whatever failures there have been in South Sudan are a result of a failure of effort, initiative and intent on the part of the UK Government, but we always have to ask whether there is more that we could do and whether there are other partners with whom we can engage more actively.
I should mention the work done by the churches, not least the Catholic Church. Ahead of the debate, as well as the very good Library briefing, Members will have received excellent briefings from World Vision and the Catholic Agency for Overseas Development, which works in South Sudan alongside its Irish counterpart, Trócaire, an organisation with which I am very familiar. We have also had important briefings from Amnesty International, Oxfam and others. When considering the role that the churches might play, we first have to show that we have listened to and heard many of the voices inside South Sudan. They have pointed to the scale of the problem and indicated the need for aid; they have also indicated their faith in the efforts of the international community.
We are seeing a deterioration into violence. That violence is being targeted more and more viciously at people who might previously have regarded themselves as safe, so the question arises whether there should be an arms embargo. The all-party group recently held a session at which we were informatively briefed by Dame Rosalind Marsden of Chatham House, who has deep experience of Sudan and South Sudan, as well as by Anna Oosterlinck from the UN panel of experts and Emma Fanning from Oxfam. The question of an arms embargo came up in the course of our discussions, and some people present said, “Well, there’s no point having an arms embargo because that will affect sophisticated arms, whereas people in South Sudan are being killed with machetes and fairly crude weapons.” That is a counsel of irresponsibility.
If the international community is in a position to impose an arms embargo on a situation that is clearly deteriorating, and if the violence involves not only crude traditional weapons but more sophisticated ammunition, then a clear stance has to be taken. The UK Government will say that they have reflected that stance at the UN, but some of these things need much more direct effort and engagement.
The deteriorating humanitarian situation exists in a political context, of course. I have no wish to rehearse the recent political history of South Sudan—the political destabilisation and how the conflict has emerged—but there are obviously questions about how the new Government formation is going to work. Many people have doubts about whether the new vice-president really has the capacity and standing to carry people in the same way as many people would say that, unfortunately, the displaced vice-president might be able to. There are dilemmas and challenges in taking forward the peace process.
Not only are there concerns about the humanitarian situation, with people not having the means of life and a place to live, but we have seen the return of cholera. It is present in nine counties, and it has returned largely because so many people are on the move. Their moving away from home has bought about diseases of that sort. That is an indicator of the further deterioration we are likely to see.
We are also witnessing continued human rights abuses by both the Government and the opposition, with attacks on their own people and violence being visited on civilians—people who would not be identified as combatants or as harbouring combatants in any way, and who should not be considered as such under any normal interpretation of conflict. They have found themselves grossly victimised. Ahead of the debate, Members will have received significant briefings from Amnesty International, which reissued its report from several weeks ago called “We did not believe we would survive”. The report sets out a dire narrative of killings, rape, looting and all sorts of other depredations in Juba, which are now spreading more widely in South Sudan.
I pay tribute not only to those in the all-party group but to other Members who have raised many of the issues I am discussing relating to the violation of human rights, including the hon. Member for Bradford East (Imran Hussain), who will respond to the debate on behalf of the Opposition. They have raised a number of questions, and in fairness, the Government have acknowledge those issues. I stress that I am not here to criticise the Government for just providing commentary on the situation. I know just how difficult the situation is, but there is a danger if we in this House decide that somewhere like South Sudan is in the box marked “Too intractable” or “Just too difficult,” because that would ignore the dire plight of the people there. Not only would that be at the expense of the people of South Sudan, but we would deny support and solidarity to the many people who are trying to help them, whether they are from the international agencies in various arms of the UN or the key international NGOs and charities.
I have acknowledged the shadow Minister; I should also acknowledge the Minister, who recently attended a meeting, sponsored by the all-party group on women, peace and security, which focused specifically on South Sudan and was attended by several charities and campaign groups. Against the backdrop of the unprecedented levels of displacement, security and violence, the meeting highlighted how all that was bearing down on women and girls. We heard evidence on how circumstances for women and girls, which were already dire before 2013, have further deteriorated. One in five pregnant women die in childbirth and one in three pregnant or lactating women are malnourished. Of the children still in school, only 40% are girls. An adolescent girl in South Sudan is three times more likely to die in childbirth than to complete primary school.
Violence against women and girls is widespread—other hon. Members and I have previously debated that topic in this Chamber and elsewhere—particularly intimate partner violence. Rape, sexual assault and exploitation, early and forced marriage and abduction all continue to be reported to humanitarian agencies and other organisations. I am sure the Minister will recall from the meeting he attended that although the assumption when we talk about violence against women and girls in conflict situations is often that active combatants are committing the violence and abuses, it is happening much more widely and nefariously as well.
Initial analysis from the first prevalence study on violence against women and girls in South Sudan shows that in some areas of the country, more than 70% of women have experienced sexual and/or physical intimate partner violence, and one in three women have experienced some form of sexual abuse, which could include rape and transactional sex.
In that situation, when delivering whatever interventions we are part of—either directly or through shared international input—we must ensure that, in our support for conflict resolution and peace building in South Sudan, there is space for women’s participation both in formal conflict prevention and in the ongoing peace process. Of course, that participation is limited at the minute, if it exists at all. We should support people and organisations such as the South Sudan Women’s Peace Network, as well as the churches, as they make the call for at least 25% representation of women in institutional and constitutional reform processes, instead of the marginalisation and neglect that women in South Sudan face at the moment.
We were told back in 2013 that the UK was shifting away from “business as usual” in South Sudan. I do not decry the contribution that the UK has made to peace and development in the country; it has been significant. I pay tribute to DFID for the leadership that it has been able to provide in very difficult circumstances, and for what will hopefully be the UK’s role in helping with peacekeeping operations, including as a member of the troika overseeing South Sudan’s peace process. In addition, as part of the UN’s high-level review of women, peace and security, the UK made eight global commitments on women, peace and security a year ago, many of which apply particularly to South Sudan and should be given real and active application in the country.
However, despite all those commitments and all that intent from the UK Government and others, the sad reality is that “business as usual” persists for women and girls in South Sudan, where the situation has now deteriorated well below even what might be called critical levels. More is needed from the international community to try to achieve some standard of wellbeing, and to try to underpin the safety and protection—and, of course, the empowerment and longer term protection—of women.
I have referred to the fact that a number of organisations that are very familiar with and engaged in South Sudan have issued good briefings. Not all of them have been able to give their name, because many of their operatives are exposed and at risk, which tells us something about the scale of the problem. In fairness, it also shows us that the situation is difficult even for Government and international agency representatives working in that environment; that is all acknowledged.
Nevertheless, when it comes to addressing the humanitarian situation, we should not divorce that from the appalling human rights abuses that have taken place on all sides in South Sudan. The fact that they take place on all sides does not excuse them in any way, and it does not absolve the international community from its duty to try to hold people properly to account for them. The churches in South Sudan are clear that part of the reason for the destabilisation in South Sudan, and part of what has helped to eat at whatever passed for a moral fabric in that nation, is the fact that there was a sense of impunity and a lack of accountability. For people who want to live by good standards and ensure that others can live their life well, those things are hugely difficult and a source of scandal and frustration.
As well as highlighting the position of women and girls, I want to acknowledge the fact that, as we all know is the case in all conflict situations, there is the dire danger of a lost generation being created, as we see the crisis and the humanitarian need worsening. Given the impulse and the imperative to meet that need in the short term, we often forget some of the longer term consequences. I pay tribute to other all-party groups in the House, including the all-party group on global education for all, which has often made the point that education is often neglected in areas of conflict, because it is not seen as requiring first-order humanitarian intervention. Similarly, a former all-party group in a previous Parliament—the all-party group on protecting children in armed conflict, which was led by Fiona O’Donnell—highlighted these issues.
There were some very good points in the briefing that we received from World Vision, which perhaps other hon. Members might want to take up when they speak, about the effort that can and must be made to ensure that there are interventions in the terrible situation that exists in South Sudan to try to ensure that some semblance of an educational opportunity is afforded to children. That is not just about giving them their right to education, which should be a part of a universal right; it is also about helping to create a sense of stability in an area. Education helps to consolidate some sense of community and some fabric of normality in a situation where people are being displaced and then further displaced, where there is more and more fear of violence and, of course, where there are the problems of hunger, which in a country such as South Sudan are complicated by the ravages of climate change.
Having at least the offer of an educational opportunity for children is one of the things that can help to keep people in an area; it can be one of the anchors to build a community. Of course, it is also one of the ways of lowering the risk of children, particularly boys, being lured into the life of child soldiers and being used as agents of conflict, not just suffering as victims of conflict.
I have referred to a number of the briefings that exist. I hope that other hon. Members who will speak after me might be able to give more articulate voice to some of the worthy points in a number of those briefings, and I also look forward to hearing the response from all the Front-Bench spokespersons.
Order. I think there are four hon. Members who wish to speak. Looking at the time, without putting a formal time limit on speeches, that leaves about eight minutes each. If hon. Members could recognise that, it would give everyone a fair chance.
Thank you so much, Mr Betts, for calling me to speak; it is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship.
When I was the shadow International Development Secretary, one of the most dangerous things I ever did was to take a flight from Lokichoggio in northern Kenya to Juba and on to some of the villages in Southern Sudan that had been razed to the ground by the Janjaweed. I remember one thing so powerfully, which supports what the hon. Member for Foyle (Mark Durkan), who has secured this debate, has just said. I met the women there and they said something that has never left me.
The women said—through an interpreter, obviously—that for 30 years they had had war in their country and they had no faith whatever in their male leaders to make peace, because their impression was that men liked fighting. With great respect to my all-male colleagues in the Chamber—they are all male bar one, my hon. Friend the Member for Derby North (Amanda Solloway) —I could not agree more that women need to be round the table making the peace.
It is so tragic to hear what is happening to this newly born country. After 30 years of civil war between the north and south in Sudan, one of the first new countries to come into existence recently has erupted into violence and is on the brink of genocide, if not already suffering it.
I have referred to the warnings that the United Nations special adviser has given. However, as the hon. Gentleman has said, just to read the reports of organisations such as Amnesty International—eye-witness reports of the human rights violations in South Sudan—requires a strong stomach, frankly. Mr Betts, if you will forgive me, I will place on the record the extent of the horror of what women in particular are suffering in South Sudan. Amnesty says that there were clearly
“serious violations of international human rights”.
That was in July, during the violence then. People took refuge in United Nations sites, but they
“faced the terror of being exposed to crossfire with shelters of plastic sheeting or mud as their only cover.”
Then, of course, it was the women—it always is—who had to leave the UN bases, or other safe places. Amnesty International’s report said:
“Over a roughly one-week period that began just after the fighting ended, dozens of Nuer women were systematically raped. Many were raped by more than one soldier. ‘When they released me…my clothes were full of blood.’”
I am sorry to have to read that into the record, but I do not think, standing here, we should baulk at just how bad the situation was. We should not be surprised that the response of those vulnerable people has been to flee. Some 3 million South Sudanese people—that is probably a conservative estimate—have been displaced, and 90% of those fleeing are women and children. They are disproportionately affected. The present reality demands concrete action from the international community. I applaud what the Government have been doing, but I agree with the hon. Gentleman who secured the debate: we are going to need to do more.
In my short contribution, I want to keep my eyes focused on the ways forward and on how the international community can support effective peace. More remains to be done if peace is to prevail. The strategic focus must be on bringing the conflicting parties back to the negotiating table and ensuring that whatever agreement is agreed is fully implemented. I was particularly struck by what Dame Rosalind Marsden said about what is next for Sudan at the recent meeting of the all-party group for Sudan and South Sudan. She highlighted the key way forward to be an emphasis on political inclusivity. When looking to the future, we must ensure that all voices are heard. The international community must focus on calming the rhetoric in South Sudan and supporting grassroots reconciliation processes through the Churches, women’s groups and youth leaders.
I was struck by something that Bishop Eduardo Hiiboro Kussala said, because I think it is directly relevant. He said:
“Many people in South Sudan are wounded in spirit. The pain of decades of war has not been addressed; our hard-won independence did not bring justice for the many who had suffered. No one has been convicted of crimes against humanity, and people have not been able to tell their stories, to relate what happened to them and their family members. Without reconciliation and forgiveness, our wounds will remain open.”
That is the point. Unless those things are addressed, peace will not take root and hold in that country.
Given the prevalence of Christianity throughout the country, Church leaders have a strong role to play. From its recent submission to the International Development Committee’s inquiry, I am aware that CAFOD has been focusing on the role of the Catholic Church and Church leaders as facilitators and promoters of the peace process. I know that the APG for Sudan and South Sudan met the South Sudan Council of Churches, which is perhaps the most promising Church-led reconciliation body in South Sudan. I am also told that it met with the Pope in Rome recently and is planning more ecumenical visits. I strongly commend the Church networks to the Minister and, through him, the Foreign Office. They are a way in which this country can help to bring about a secure peace.
In conclusion, I encourage the UK Government to increase their engagement with the Church. I like the phrase that the hon. Gentleman used. We need to create a coalition of hopeful purpose—something that will last for generations. Among all that, let us please make space for women’s contribution to peace-making.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Betts. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Foyle (Mark Durkan) for securing this important and timely debate and for his diligence on international humanitarian and human rights matters. It is a pleasure to speak after the right hon. Member for Meriden (Dame Caroline Spelman), who made a powerful speech.
The Department for International Development’s aid strategy was set out just over a year ago, and last week we had the publication of its bilateral and multilateral development reviews. What is clear in the strategy and the reviews is that in addressing poverty we also need to address conflict as a driver of and sometimes a consequence of poverty. In many ways, South Sudan is tragically a prime example of how the new aid strategy could be applied to good effect. The civil war that blights South Sudan today began almost exactly three years ago. Since then, we have seen numerous ceasefires brokered, the UN continue its peacekeeping programme in the region and a formal peace agreement, but none of those measures has succeeded in preventing the sustained violence that has already been described. In many ways, it is one of the least well publicised humanitarian crises of our time, which makes today’s debate especially welcome.
Even before South Sudan became a sovereign nation, the foundations for the new country were shaky. Decades of war in Sudan and across the region had caused widespread poverty, inequality and instability. The infrastructure needed to develop a new country was not there. That has made it incredibly difficult for humanitarian missions to deliver aid effectively to all parts of the country and it has held back the country’s economy.
The scale of the humanitarian crisis was set out fully by my hon. Friend the Member for Foyle in his opening speech. The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs reports that 1.87 million people have been internally displaced. As he said, more than 1 million people have fled to neighbouring countries to escape the violence. That equates to around one quarter of the population of the country having to uproot themselves and leave their homes because of the civil war. More than 200,000 people are living in UN protection of civilians sites.
As my hon. Friend said, food insecurity is a massive challenge. Almost 5 million people are food insecure in South Sudan. According to the World Food Programme and the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation, up to 4 million of them are severely food insecure, and the numbers are going up as a consequence of the conflict. As both speakers have said, DFID is playing an active and positive role, and I pay tribute to the role that the United Kingdom has been playing. DFID has been working in South Sudan since 2006 to try to address the humanitarian situation and establish the capacity for future development, including through the South Sudan peace building programme, the South Sudan recovery fund and the South Sudan service delivery programme. Crucially, there is also the support that we and others are providing to the refugees in neighbouring countries, including Uganda, Ethiopia and Kenya. The UK is the second largest bilateral donor in South Sudan after the USA. The presence we have in South Sudan, despite the conflict and the challenges we face, is crucial.
I echo what my hon. Friend said about education and how vital it is that even in these challenging circumstances, the needs of children in South Sudan are not forgotten. As he said, it is vital that we do not have a lost generation. When the Minister responds, it would be good to hear about the programmes that the Government are supporting for education in South Sudan—particularly the education of girls and young women. We have seen a renewed global focus on education this year with the launch of Education Cannot Wait, which looks at the needs of refugees and other people living in emergency situations. Last week, the International Development Committee, as part of our education inquiry, visited Jordan and Lebanon to see for ourselves the impact of the Syria conflict on the education of children and young people in those countries—both the refugees and those from the host communities.
Despite the great efforts of Governments, including our own, we know there have been extraordinary violations of human rights, as my hon. Friend set out so powerfully in his opening speech. Can the Minister tell us what the Government are doing to monitor and report human rights violations? In particular, when such violations arise, how are we going to bring the perpetrators to justice? As has been said, the UN Secretary-General’s special adviser on genocide, Adama Dieng, has already given stark warnings about the risk of genocide. What are the Government doing with partners to ensure that the situation does not become a genocide? What representations are we making to the South Sudanese Government? There is, as the right hon. Member for Meriden said, a shared responsibility. That continent had the Rwanda genocide in 1994 and the conflict in Darfur more recently, and it is vital that we learn lessons as a country from such events.
At the height of the conflict, DFID and the Foreign Office had to limit staffing numbers in the country for understandable reasons. Can the Minister tell us whether he sees a point at which the Government will be able to restore some of the reductions in DFID and other staff working to relieve the humanitarian crisis faced by the people of South Sudan? We know that many NGOs have similarly had to reduce their staffing numbers. For example, Médecins sans Frontières told the International Development Committee of the ongoing security risk faced by its hospitals and other humanitarian outposts. In written evidence to the Committee, it told us that during the most recent surge in violence, two of MSF’s clinics in Leer were looted and they have not been able to reopen because of the ongoing insecurity. What can we do as a country and what are the Government doing in conjunction with other multilateral donors to ensure the safety of humanitarian staff working in the region?
My hon. Friend the Member for Foyle set out some of the concerns and issues with UNMISS in the region. Reports have raised serious concerns. I have been told of a recent incident at the Terrain hotel. The UN peacekeeping mission was only a few miles away from the hotel and yet it failed repeatedly to respond to emergency calls from civilians. As has already been said, UNMISS has struggled to fulfil its mandate for a number of reasons, but lack of co-operation from the Government of South Sudan is a major factor. Does the Minister think there is more that we could do, perhaps via the United Nations Security Council, to raise these questions?
Finally, as with all conflicts of this nature, in the end we need a diplomatic political solution that brings peace. I ask the Minister what more can be done to bring an end to this conflict through diplomatic means. Next Tuesday the International Development Committee will take oral evidence on the situation in South Sudan, including from the Minister. I very much welcome today’s debate and look forward to hearing contributions from other Members and the responses from the Minister, the SNP Front Bench and my own Front Bench. As my hon. Friend said, we face a humanitarian crisis, a set of challenges that relate to human rights and justice, and a fragile young country that desperately needs a peaceful, diplomatic solution.
It is a pleasure to follow the Chair of the Select Committee, the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Stephen Twigg); I am reassured that the issue is receiving the attention of not only the all-party parliamentary group for Sudan and South Sudan, but also that of the Select Committee. I am an Afro-optimist, but I must admit there is very little to be optimistic about in South Sudan, which is perhaps one of the reasons why we should engage in the subject. I sometimes wonder about the anecdote of the MP who says, “I did something about this; I spoke about it in the House of Commons”; the constituent reminds them that that does not in itself effect change.
As I have gone from country to country in Africa, I have occasionally read in the local papers about proceedings in our Chamber—the references and the criticisms. They are taken seriously. I would very much like the Minister, through our ambassador in Juba or through Christopher Trott, our special representative for Sudan and South Sudan, to take a copy of Hansard and to say to Riek Machar or Salva Kiir, “The ex-Minister for Africa, James Duddridge, was not happy.” Let them see the support that their citizens have from us here in the House of Commons.
All too often in meetings, Kiir and the President seemed to be more interested in their own political future and dividing up the cake. I remember a farcical argument about who did which Cabinet jobs, and it became apparent that the Cabinet jobs with lots of cash flowing through were the ones of interest. It was the personal and financial interest of those involved that drove things forward.
I am not going to be particularly diplomatic. My private office always reminded me as a Minister, “You are the first diplomat.” This was when they gave me a lecture on being more diplomatic. The worst Foreign Minister I met in my two years was Barnaba Benjamin, who, thankfully, has now been sacked. He was oblivious to the need for a proper dialogue and change. I am not sure about the degree to which he was authorised on behalf of the Government to take such a position in the UN, but we are certainly in a better position without him.
Festus Mogae, the ex-President of Botswana, was a strong influence when I was dealing with the situation, but he was heavily under-resourced. I urge the excellent Minister to have discussions with his Foreign Office colleagues to make sure Festus Mogae gets all the resources he needs. A few thousand pounds to fly the right people to the right location to chat or paying the hotel bill for a few nights for the right people might sound trivial, but it can be transformational in its effect.
The Chair of the Select Committee referred to infrastructure problems and physically getting around the country. One looks at a map, but the roads are impassable physically or impassable because of the security situation. One cannot get around unless one flies into regional airports.
There is also a broader infrastructure problem. The international community got it disastrously wrong when South Sudan was declared an independent nation state. The international community, including the UK Government, felt that if certain building blocks were provided, a principal one being an election, everything would sort itself out. When I was in Juba meeting people from civil society, they said, “What you do not appreciate is that everything has been stripped away. Everything that you consider normal in the community—the checks, the balances, the free press, the local councils, the parish councils, and, to a degree, even the churches—have been eliminated.” We should reflect on that in other situations.
I remember, bizarrely, South Sudan taking a great interest in the Scottish referendum, and I realised why. They did not want Scotland to be independent, simply because they would no longer be the newest nation state in the world. They were vehement in their opposition. There was an undertone of pride about being a new nation state. There was hope and drive there. It was very strange. When I visited, the IMF was due to arrive. The situation seemed wholly farcical. The economy was in total collapse and the support of the IMF would have made sense only if the Government system was sorted. I am interested to find out how that has developed.
In the UN camps, I visited women who had been raped—some in the camps themselves, but principally outside the camps. I was struck by what I heard. I had been told to expect graphic stories of how they had been raped so that I would appreciate the horror of the situation. However, none of them wanted to discuss that—not because I was a man, but because they were used to politicians coming in and listening. They knew that I was meeting Salva Kiir the next day and they had specific policy recommendations: “You need to tell our President this; you need to tell our President that.” They clearly felt totally disenfranchised.
At the UN I met two female British police officers. I am interested to know whether the secondment of UK police forces to the camps is still working. That was really useful because people were getting raped in the camps. The UN camps were relatively porous and people could get in and out. The police officers helped the community to police themselves. They acted almost as police trainers to the community, rather than policing the area themselves.
We should learn lessons from when people come back together. When Machar came back to Juba, he brought bodyguards, which, given the history, makes a lot of sense. I suggested that some should come early to pave the way so that there were no misunderstandings among the combatant forces. I expected two, maybe 10, maybe 20, bodyguards—there were 1,000. I am no military man, but that sounds more like a battalion than close protection officers.
There was a bizarre debate over whether we should transport the rocket-propelled machinery. We ended up helping to bring back some of the rocket-propelled devices, but not the actual cartridges that go in them. Indeed, when things unravelled, it was among the bodyguards that things started around the presidential compound.
We need to look at the situation in relation to Sudan more generally. It is good that the all-party group is covering both areas, particularly the Chinese relationship and the oil relationship. When looking at the numbers, it struck me that there did not seem to be any economic sense in pumping oil and sending it to China. I could not quite work out why it was economic to do that, unless there were big bribes going on behind the scenes, separate from the flows to China.
This was one of the two areas, the other being Burundi, that, despite my being an Afrophile and Afro-optimist, kept me up at night. I do not know what one could have done differently, but I hope that those places still keep some at the Foreign Office up at night—I am sure they do. With all due respect, I hope they occasionally keep the Minister up at night, looking at what we can do for the people of South Sudan, as well as those who have left it and its neighbouring countries.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Foyle (Mark Durkan) on his presentation of the issue and the hard work that he has done on it. I also congratulate all right hon. and hon. Members who have taken part in the debate. They have made fantastic and focused contributions, and they clearly have much more knowledge than I do and have had experience in South Sudan.
It will be of no surprise to many here that I am taking part in the debate. Humanitarian situations have always touched me, and this one does too. As we are in this place and can use our influence to make changes that help people, that is what we should do. That is why I shall continue to speak in such debates. If we can help, clearly we should—that is where I am coming from. We have received a lot of information from many people, including the briefing pack that the hon. Member for Foyle mentioned. I declare an interest as the chair of the all-party group on international freedom of religion or belief, and I want to make some comments on that issue and human rights.
The briefing pack states that close to 3 million South Sudanese have had to flee their homes since civil war broke out in December 2013. An estimated 1.87 million people have been internally displaced, and more than 1 million people are refugees in neighbouring countries. We are witnessing a humanitarian catastrophe in South Sudan, and those figures cannot be overlooked as we try to grasp the enormity of it. It is estimated that 4.8 million people were food-insecure in July 2016. If that is not a crisis, then what is? When a ceasefire was declared in July, after five days of heavy fighting that marked the fifth anniversary of the formation of the world’s youngest nation, I was shocked at some of the images and the coverage. It showed that despite the ceasefire, which followed days of devastating fighting, a humanitarian emergency gripped the nation. Untold numbers were massacred and thousands more sought refuge in churches. People rush to churches in the hope of finding sanctuary —as they should, because that is where sanctuary should be. Unfortunately, that did not save them either. The humanitarian issue is the most urgent, starting with the lack of drinking water. The International Red Cross has managed to send teams into the two main hospitals, but it is beyond time for Governments worldwide to step in and do what they can.
Many Christians have lost their lives in the civil war, although it is not possible to give the number. I want to ask the Minister about that. In this House I have a duty to be clear about it, as do other Members. Reports suggested that some 300 people, including scores of civilians, were killed in the violence in July, and there were UN reports of horrors such as mass rapes, and children and the disabled being burned alive. Can we even begin to imagine how horrible those things are? Words cannot take it in. The UN said in its report earlier this year that it had received
“harrowing accounts of pro-opposition civilians killed by being burned alive, suffocated in containers, shot, hanged from trees or cut to pieces”.
There were stories of children and disabled people being among such victims. No one is free from the depravity, violence and brutality of the people involved. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, said at the time:
“The scale and types of sexual violence—primarily by Government SPLA forces and affiliated militia—are described in searing, devastating detail, as is the almost casual, yet calculated, attitude of those slaughtering civilians and destroying property and livelihoods”.
More recently, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon warned that there was a
“very real risk of mass atrocities”
in South Sudan and that peacekeepers deployed in the war-torn country would not be able to stop such a bloodbath.
The people who reside in South Sudan have suffered a painful history, enduring years of conflict. Today, the humanitarian situation has again reached the most deplorable levels. There have been reports, as other hon. Members have said, of the rape of women and girls on an unprecedented scale. In response to the very careful words of the right hon. Member for Meriden (Dame Caroline Spelman), who clearly outlined the situation of violence against women, I would say that all of us here are speaking out against it too. I find it incomprehensible when I try to take in all that is happening.
The current circumstances seem a far cry from the formation of the transitional constitution, which provided some positivity about the direction the country could have taken. It even included a stipulation on the separation of religion and state, prohibiting religious discrimination even if the President declares a state of emergency. The emphasis in South Sudan at the start was excellent, but those clear principles have been strayed away from. It is common for rights of that type to be enshrined in law in developed nations. The statement that
“all religions shall be treated equally”
“religion or religious beliefs shall not be used for divisive purposes”
indicated much potential. Tragically, however, such promising rhetoric has failed to be fully realised because of the continuing conflict. Instead, a process of ethnic cleansing has gripped the country, involving massacres, starvation and the destruction of villages. Members will know that South Sudan is one of the most diverse countries in Africa, with approximately 64 different ethnic groups brought together as one. Sadly, the three UN commission members say they have observed deepening divisions between the groups, which may lead to an increase in violence if urgent action is not taken to de-escalate tensions.
Large parts of the country have no functioning courts or even traditional reconciliation methods, and that is exacerbating issues and affecting the potential for peace. Developing the judicial infrastructure of the country is therefore of the utmost importance and must be addressed. Other institutions that can help to create a path to peace should also be supported. For instance, the Humanitarian Aid Relief Trust has heard of the positive role of the Churches as long-term mediators—which they should, can and want to be—and an influence for reconciliation. As the Minister of State, Baroness Anelay, has said:
“Both accountability and reconciliation remain essential for South Sudan to move forward”,
and it is imperative that we support
“the ongoing efforts of community groups, including churches, to pursue reconciliation at the local level.”
I believe that they are a conduit for change and reconciliation. Considering that, will the Minister ensure that our embassy officials discuss the importance of religious communities in the country and the role they can play in peace and reconciliation as well as in offering refuge to innocent civilians who desperately need it?
As the UN commission has said:
“The stage is being set for a repeat of what happened in Rwanda and the international community is”—
as we all believe—
“under an obligation to prevent it.”
The idea of the separation of states was to stop genocide, yet it continues unabated. We have a moral duty to do all we can to halt the genocide taking place right under our noses.
The hon. Member for Rochford and Southend East (James Duddridge) is right that it is good to be able to say he has spoken in this debate in Westminster Hall, but it is not enough. We who are speaking are not the ones who can make a change. We look to the Government and the Minister to take our words and drive them into a strategy and plan for change. I have read the response of the Department for International Development, which has said:
“The UK is the second largest bilateral donor to the humanitarian response in South Sudan. We expect to provide assistance to 3 million people between 2015 and 2020, the majority of whom are internally displaced people, but also those living in the host communities supporting them. Our support will include life-saving food and clean drinking water as well as sanitation, shelter and health care.”
All that is good, but it is not sufficient to plaster up the bleeding without attempting to deal with the assault that causes it. With that in mind, will the Minister reassure the House that Her Majesty’s Government are doing all that they can—not just alone but with other Governments—to prevent further conflict in South Sudan and support the efforts for a peace process to end the violence?
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Betts. I congratulate the hon. Member for Foyle (Mark Durkan) on obtaining the debate and on his comprehensive introduction to it, as well as all the other hon. Members who have made informed and important contributions. I congratulate him on his work as the chair of the all-party group for Sudan and South Sudan, of which I am proud to be a vice-chair. It has been a busy time for the all-party group. We have welcomed a number of delegations and representatives as part of a continuing inquiry into the situation in Sudan and South Sudan. Recently, I had the honour of meeting representatives of the Sudan Council of Churches, led by the Archbishop of Canterbury’s former and current advisers on Anglican communion affairs, Bishop Precious Omuku and the Right Reverend Anthony Poggo, Bishop of Kajo-Keji, who is from South Sudan. The role of the Church has been touched on, and I may come back to that.
The repeated message from those visitors, and from the reports prepared for the debate, is just how dire the situation is on the ground. That is particularly tragic given the hope that surrounded independence in 2011. South Sudan remains the youngest country in the world—despite our best efforts in 2014, although the situations are of course markedly different on a whole range of levels.
We have heard the words “tragic”, “dire” and “gruelling”—we are almost running out of words to express the tragedy of the situation, yet many analysts say there is no end in sight. In particular, the issue of gender-based violence has been touched on. We are in the middle of the 16 days of activism against gender-based violence. Saturday of this week is Human Rights Day. Tomorrow there will be a debate on violence against women, and next Friday there will be a private Member’s Bill on the Istanbul convention. Those are supposed to be reminders to galvanise us into action, yet the situation only seems to be getting worse.
The constructive suggestion from the right hon. Member for Meriden (Dame Caroline Spelman) about the role that women have to play in the peace process is important and worth emphasising, and that has to be built into all the diplomatic and humanitarian responses. The former Minister, the hon. Member for Rochford and Southend East (James Duddridge), emphasised that point in recounting his experience of meeting with women.
The whole country is affected by the humanitarian disaster. Some 1.87 million people are internally displaced and nearly half the population are food-insecure. There are increasing health risks, such as cholera, which the hon. Member for Foyle mentioned. There are attacks on non-governmental organisations and humanitarian organisations—organisations that are there on a humanitarian basis, trying to provide help on the ground—such as the attack on the Terrain compound. There is also an increasing tribal dimension and a real risk of mass atrocities, as identified by the UN Secretary-General.
There has to be some hope for progress. There is a role for the Government, which we have touched on, and the role of faith-based and Church organisations has been mentioned frequently. The Church has historically played an important role in building peace after previous conflicts. It has a reach into communities across the whole country and, crucially, is owned and led by leaders from those communities. The particular interest that Pope Francis has taken in the situation has been mentioned, so it would be interesting to know how the Government are working with the Church on the ground. Given the UK’s role in the troika, is there any role that the UK’s representative to the Holy See can play, or is playing, in helping to facilitate those dialogues?
We have a Department for International Development Minister here today, and I echo the points made by the Chair of the Select Committee, the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Stephen Twigg), about DFID’s support, and particularly about continuity of education for children so that future generations do not get wrapped up in a cycle of violence, and about the importance of working through NGOs on the ground. The humanitarian “Charter for Change”, which a number of organisations have signed up to, such as the Catholic Agency for Overseas Development and the Scottish Catholic International Aid Fund, emphasises that support for organisations already on the ground is important, especially as access for external organisations becomes more difficult. In providing a humanitarian response, it is important that we do not lose sight of longer-term development work supporting livelihoods, the mainstreaming of peacebuilding and finding ways to link that with humanitarian responses to build resilience in communities going forward.
With regard to influence at the United Nations, it would be useful to know where the Government stand on pushing for an arms embargo as a matter of urgency. The UK’s ambassador has called for that, but how is the UK proactively working to identify what blocks there might be to that at the UN? Is there a role for increased sanctions against not just military figures but high-level civilian and political figures? There has to be continued pressure on both sides to get back to the negotiating table to implement a ceasefire and allow humanitarian access. There has to be discussion with neighbouring countries and support for displaced people in refugee camps on the borders as well.
There also has to be support here at home in the UK. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office advises against all travel of UK citizens to South Sudan, yet I struggled to find on the Home Office website any country guidance about how South Sudanese refugees who make it here should be treated. I hope they will be welcomed and supported to settle in this country, given the challenges that they have faced and made it through.
As the hon. Member for Foyle said, nothing should be too difficult or too intractable for us. We sometimes wonder where these debates get us. I hope that diplomats will take this strong demonstration of cross-party support very clearly and that the Government will be encouraged by that. If they step up their action, they will have our support.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Betts. I thank the hon. Member for Foyle (Mark Durkan) for securing this very important debate. As chair of the all-party parliamentary group, he has a considerable interest in the issue. In his very passionate contribution, he rightly pointed out the serious human rights violations and, in particular, the disproportionate impact on women and girls. I also thank the right hon. Member for Meriden (Dame Caroline Spelman) and my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Stephen Twigg), the Chair of the International Development Committee, as well as the hon. Members for Rochford and Southend East (James Duddridge), for Strangford (Jim Shannon) and for Glasgow North (Patrick Grady).
It is clear that Members from all parties are alarmed by the rapidly deteriorating situation in South Sudan and have grave worries that the country could fall further still, with new reports of violence against civilians every day. Despite several ceasefires, what we are seeing unfold in South Sudan does not show the country moving towards a more peaceful period. We must work closely with our international partners and, crucially, the African community to stabilise the situation in the country. We therefore wish to seek assurances from the Government that the UK is doing all that it can to alleviate the growing humanitarian crisis in South Sudan. Time does not permit me to cover the many issues of equal importance that hon. Members have raised. I will concentrate on three areas of concern.
The first issue is the sheer scale of the refugee crisis being created by the conflict, with 1.3 million South Sudanese refugees in neighbouring countries and more than 1.7 million internally displaced. For a country with a population of between 11 and 12 million, let us be in no doubt that this is a huge figure, with more than one in five people fleeing their homes. It is very worrying because the most dramatic manifestation of a deteriorating humanitarian situation is the scale of the movement of people. The mass movement taking place in South Sudan paints not only a bleak picture of the situation, but an extremely disturbing one. It is clear that alarm bells in the international community should be ringing loudly, for this situation is only set to get worse.
The second focus of our concern is the enormous funding shortfalls experienced by UN agencies operating in the region, something that has not been talked about as much today but which is very important. For example, of the almost $650 million that the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees needs for the South Sudan situation, it has only managed to secure $166 million, or 26% of its funding requirements, which leaves a $483 million funding gap. Although I welcome the UK’s $6.5 million contribution to the UNHCR South Sudan situation fund, it seems that our international partners are less than willing, with even the International Olympic Committee contributing more than Italy or Spain. That is frankly unacceptable. We need not only to up our game and contribute more to this neglected crisis, but to get on the phone, get around the table and press our allies to step up and plug the gap.
Supporting refugees, which is vital if we are to address the humanitarian situation that the South Sudanese face, can happen only with adequate funding. Without funding, it is a struggle to register new arrivals, provide shelter, relocate refugees to better, safer sites, provide access to food, increase health services, and provide water, sanitation and hygiene facilities. Not providing those things deepens the humanitarian crisis, as we are seeing. The UK and its partners urgently need to address that gap, particularly as we enter the dry season, when large offensives that will displace more people are expected. I urge the Minister to provide some clarity on that point.
The third and final issue, which has rightly been the subject of most of the focus of this important debate, is the human rights situation in that country. Numerous abuses—including, as we have heard, sexual violence, rape and the use of child soldiers—have been committed against civilians. Most worryingly, as hon. Members said, there is a real concern that the conflict could escalate into ethnic cleansing and genocide. In 2010, the US director of national intelligence warned that a new genocide is likely to occur in South Sudan. It is with deep regret that we are beginning to see his prediction come true, as the situation becomes less a conflict between Government and rebel forces, and more one between armed militia and defenceless civilians. Human Rights Watch reported that soldiers and police forces are conducting house-to-house searches for certain ethnic groups, followed by multiple killings, despite ceasefires being in place.
The chair of the three-person commission in South Sudan, acting on behalf of the UN Commission on Human Rights, stated that they are observing deepening ethnic divisions, and that the stage is being set for a repeat of the Rwandan genocide. In the 1990s, the world stood by and watched as the Tutsi people of Rwanda were not just killed but exterminated in swathes of that country. We cannot let that happen again. To prevent that, we must ensure that the failures associated with UNMISS are properly addressed and that there is accountability and a working justice system. I have substantial reservations about UNMISS’s ability to protect civilians, in the wake of an investigation that identified an ineffective response to violence and a risk-averse posture. I would be grateful if the Minister can tell me what the UK is doing to ensure, when the mission’s mandate and budget are extended, that its shortcomings are corrected and that it is able to properly protect civilians.
On the issue of justice and accountability, although I understand that DFID is funding several access-to-justice programmes in South Sudan, the criminal justice system in that country is not only still grossly under-resourced, but lacks the capacity in several important areas to see through investigations and prosecutions. What are the Government doing to support efforts to bring those guilty of atrocities to justice? What are they doing more widely to prevent genocide, particularly through arms embargoes and their enforcement?
Although the world’s attention is rightly focused on the growing refugee crisis in Syria and Iraq, we must remember that other crises are emerging around the globe, many of which are as serious. We must take the humanitarian situation and the rising spectre of genocide in South Sudan seriously, and we must not let it take hold or stand by if it does.
It is testament to the importance of this issue and the weight that Members attach to it that we have had such a wide range of contributions to the debate from across political parties. I congratulate the hon. Member for Foyle (Mark Durkan) on raising this issue.
There is a very difficult set of circumstances in South Sudan. It is a sad and, indeed, tragic story. Hon. Members spoke about a range of concerns and issues, which I hope to address in the time remaining. I will explain the British Government’s position, what the UK is doing to try to mitigate the impact of what is unfolding in South Sudan, and what we might do, looking to the future, to set that country on a better path—one that has eluded it thus far.
The hon. Gentleman set out the situation in South Sudan in stark terms. It voted overwhelmingly for independence in 2011, but in 2013 fighting broke out between the forces loyal to President Kiir and those loyal to the Vice-President Machar. A peace agreement was signed in August 2015, but fighting broke out again in Juba in July, and Vice-President Machar fled the country. Estimates of the number of people killed in the fighting since 2013 range from 50,000 to 300,000, but it cannot be denied that a significant number have been impacted by the effects of the instability and fighting. Many lives have been destroyed, and many others remain in the balance. The question, which right hon. and hon. Members have covered widely, is, what can we do to assist?
Some hon. Members, including the hon. Member for Foyle, spoke about UNMISS—the UN peacekeeping force of 13,000 or so troops, to which the UK is scaling up its contribution to 400 to assist it in its work. They mentioned the challenges it has faced and the criticism it has come under as a result of its perceived failings. It is right to be critical of its failings, but we also have to recognise that the Government of South Sudan have often been a very significant factor in preventing it from doing its job. That is one of the challenges that we face as an international community when engaging in South Sudan, and we are continuing work to try to resolve it. The UK’s increased contribution of some of the world’s most professional soldiers, who will be able to provide additional leadership and support, will hopefully make a difference, but that will not remove a number of the barriers and challenges, not the least of which is the behaviour of the Government of South Sudan.
The hon. Gentleman and a number of other right hon. and hon. Members raised issues including the challenges that women and girls face, and the important contribution that the UK, in particular, is making in the field of education in South Sudan. He commented on reports from a range of organisations that have taken an interest in this space and contributed significantly to the broader understanding of what is happening and what needs to be done.
The hon. Gentleman and others also raised the concern that there is a perception that some have acted with impunity, and have committed crimes and done things that, in some cases, we find entirely unacceptable, but have not yet been brought to justice. The peace agreement signed in 2015 agreed that a hybrid court would be established to bring to justice those guilty of the most egregious human rights abuses. The African Union is currently considering models for it, and our international partners are encouraging it to move it forward. Those who have committed or are complicit in serious crimes should and indeed must be brought to justice, not just because it is important that the victims of those crimes have justice, but for the message it sends to the international community more broadly about the approach that the UK and the international community take in the world. We will stick firm and fast to that approach and encourage our partners and other nations to co-operate in delivering it.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Meriden (Dame Caroline Spelman) spoke of the tragic circumstances in South Sudan and quoted moving parts of Amnesty International’s report. She focused on the impact on individuals—particularly women and girls—and commented, I think appropriately, on the need to bring parties around the table, and on the role that the Church and church leaders can play in that process. Those comments were echoed by the hon. Members for Strangford (Jim Shannon) and for Glasgow North (Patrick Grady), among others. We recognise the important role that civil society can play in peace building, including in South Sudan, and Members highlighted the role that churches can play. We are working with them to find ways to support action for peace—the Churches’ campaign—and we are working closely with the churches, including through our ambassador to the Holy See, whom hon. Members mentioned, Bishop Anthony Poggo and Bishop Precious Omuku.
We are engaging with church leaders and supporting Churches’ objectives and broader activities. The Churches can play a key role in bringing together some of the groups that will need to be brought together if we are to secure peace for South Sudan. We stand ready to work in tandem with any actors in this space who can help us to achieve our shared objectives, and the Churches have a proud history and tradition of doing that. That has been recognised by right hon. and hon. Members today and, I can assure them, is recognised by the Government.
In one guise or another, I seem to appear before the Chair of the International Development Committee, the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Stephen Twigg), daily at the moment, which is testament to his and his Committee’s work ethic and interests. He drew on his wide and comprehensive experience and understanding of some of the broader challenges, including the need to address conflict when we wish to deal with poverty. The Department for International Development focuses very much on alleviating poverty, and rightly so, but we have to recognise that the underlying causes of poverty can be many and varied, and conflict is one of the strongest, most easily identifiable and most challenging to address.
I was struck, too, by the fact that the Select Committee Chair raised the issue of neighbouring countries, demonstrating his grasp of the breadth of the challenge, which affects not only South Sudan but its neighbours. In this financial year we will spend £15 million in Uganda, nearly £4 million in Ethiopia and more than £3 million in Kenya on support for refugees from South Sudan. More needs to be done, because of the significant pressure on neighbouring states from the large numbers of people who have been forced by circumstances entirely beyond their control to flee their homes, often in fear of their lives or in search of basic amenities, provisions and support. The impact on neighbouring states is significant, and the hon. Gentleman was right to mention it. We are cognisant of it and engaged. Where we can, we are determined to contribute not only to finding peace in South Sudan, but to helping its affected neighbours deal with the consequences of the unfolding events.
The Chair of the Select Committee also raised the issue of education. I am pleased to confirm that the UK is a lead donor to education in South Sudan. We recognise its importance, particularly for girls, but also more broadly. “Girls’ Education South Sudan”, is our £61.4 million programme, running from May 2013 to April 2019. It will benefit 240,000 girls, as well as boys, and more than 2,500 schools, resulting in improved learning outcomes and completion rates and helping to minimise the disruption of the terrible circumstances in which many young people find themselves. I thank the hon. Gentleman for making that important point, which deserved mention.
My hon. Friend the Member for Rochford and Southend East (James Duddridge) drew on his extensive experience of Africa generally and South Sudan in particular. He is free of some of the constraints that affect those of us in ministerial office, and was able to be slightly less diplomatic than I might choose to be in this debate, but I recognise the importance of his comments. He is right: what we say in the Chamber is not the same as what we do and how we act, but people follow what is said in this place and the mood, thoughts and concerns of hon. Members. He has made his views very clear.
From my own travels and people I have met in Africa, I know that my hon. Friend’s time as a Minister in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office is respected, and the weight attached to his comments is not insignificant. I therefore hope that actors in this place will heed his words, because they are both wise and important, and they send a clear message to those who, if they changed their actions, might make a real and direct difference to the lives of many people in South Sudan.
My hon. Friend asked specific questions about the IMF. I understand the surprise he expressed about it, and I confirm that the process is on hold given the situation in South Sudan. He also asked about the contribution of the UK police to improving the security situation. I am sorry to confirm that, the crisis having re-emerged, the policewomen whom he met—or their replacements—were withdrawn in July. We have not been able to restart that process because of the particular security risks.
The hon. Member for Strangford talked about the need for basic amenities and the challenges for South Sudan. Basic infrastructure is often not present, which makes delivering aid, doing good, monitoring progress and doing all the things that the international community wants to do in that country all the more difficult. He rightly spoke about the terrible impact on many Christian communities. He is a champion for Christian communities throughout the world—this is not the first debate in which I have heard him raise the issue—and his voice is strong and clear. I hope that it will be heeded. People, whatever their background, are suffering in South Sudan, and that includes many minority groups. Christians are suffering much as a result of broader events and, given the role of the Churches, and the clear and urgent need for the international community to rally to do what can be done to avert what might be a crisis in the country, his comments were timely and apposite. I welcome them.
The hon. Gentleman’s comments were echoed to some extent by the spokesman for the Scottish National party, the hon. Member for Glasgow North, who also asked about our actions and activities at the United Nations, as did the shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Bradford East (Imran Hussain). At the United Nations, we continue to call for an arms embargo and to be proactive in our support, engaging with our international partners in that space. We recognise the challenges in delivering unified, global international action in such circumstances, but that is no excuse for not trying to secure it. The UK plays a lead role in that, which I welcome, and it will continue to do so, which is important.
The shadow Minister focused on three areas, which I have already touched on to a great extent. He spoke about the scale of the refugee crisis, which is not only in South Sudan but in its neighbouring countries, and recognised the need for serious action to deal with it. The UK plays a significant role, but I accept that there is more to do. He rightly spoke about funding shortfalls. I have lobbied my counterparts in other donor nations by phone, and I will continue to engage in that space. The UK is the second largest humanitarian donor, in particular through our humanitarian and resilience programme in South Sudan—the £443 million HARISS programme, running over five years from March 2015 to 2020. We will provide food, shelter, access to water and health services to millions of vulnerable people, including women and children. We want our global partners to assist in the process, too—many do, but more needs to be done. His comments were important in that regard.
The shadow Minister also mentioned his concern about the escalating violence. Reference has been made to the concerns expressed by the United Nations, and many hon. Members referred to the danger of genocide in South Sudan. As is broadly accepted, however, we are not in that place at this time, although we are in a place where genocide is a very real risk. The international community must pay heed to that risk and take the warning. It must act and engage constructively and energetically to avoid what could become something that we look back on as a scar on our conscience if we are not careful about how we act today.
The UK is playing a key role by leading our international partners, investing through the Department for International Development, applying pressure through the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, working through many agencies based here in this country or supported from here, and expressing its views and concerns through forums such as this one in Westminster Hall. We must continue to do all that and to focus our efforts, because the lives of many millions of people may hang on our success or otherwise. The goal and its pursuit are worthy, and I am pleased to see the House engage in that, across parties, as wholeheartedly as has been demonstrated this afternoon.
I thank the Minister for replying to so many of the points made by many right hon. and hon. Members. I thank the right hon. Member for Meriden (Dame Caroline Spelman) and the hon. Members for North West Norfolk (Sir Henry Bellingham), for Rochford and Southend East (James Duddridge), for Liverpool, West Derby (Stephen Twigg), for Strangford (Jim Shannon), for Glasgow North (Patrick Grady) and for Bradford East (Imran Hussain) for their contributions. They all articulated a number of the issues and factors to do with the existing problems in South Sudan and the possible actions to mitigate some of them in the short and the long term.
The Minister rightly touched on a number of the points that were made, and he acknowledged the problems with UNMISS, as did other hon. Members. I would not wish UNMISS to escape any criticism, but I did not want the debate only to focus on it and its failure.
We must remember that UNMISS failed not only the people of South Sudan but the very good people of the NGOs who had made a commitment there. The hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby mentioned the Terrain hotel incident, which involved NGO people being victimised. We should offer solidarity and sympathy to NGO workers who have had to leave South Sudan, perhaps for their own safety, or who have been evicted more cruelly. It must be hugely frustrating for them, knowing the problems of the country, to be denied the opportunity to add their bit of capacity.
The other people to whom we must of course offer solidarity are the people of South Sudan themselves. Emma Fanning from Oxfam, when she spoke to the APPG, made the point that it is the resilience of the South Sudanese people, in offering solidarity themselves, to which we have to pay tribute.
Motion lapsed (Standing Order No. 10(6)).